Mickey Mouse’s Father – An Amazing Entrepreneur

I recently re-read a terrific biography by Bob Thomas called Walt Disney: An American Original. Thomas was a reporter and biographer who authored multiple biographies focusing on Hollywood celebrities. The Disney story is fascinating and is packed with incredible entrepreneurial anecdotes. As a kid in the 1950s and 1960s, I watched Walt Disney Presents and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color on ABC and NBC. I remember attending the Disney movie Babes in Toyland in early 1962 at the local theater. And then of course there was Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in 1964. The pièce de résistance was a visit to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, with my family. Of course as a boy I had no idea what entrepreneurship was all about.

Roll the tape forward several decades and I find myself in awe of this amazing man. He epitomizes so many positive traits of a successful entrepreneur. For starters, he was one of the most optimistic individuals I’ve ever studied. Walt Disney was born in 1901 and began his career at age 18, and in the 1920s moved to California and launched Disney Studios with his older brother, Roy. The early days were lean – sometimes very lean. There were many weeks when the Disneys were scrounging for enough money to make the payroll. Roy took this very seriously and fretted considerably over their plight. But Walt was the eternal optimist. He would smile and say he never worried about money. He believed they would always figure out a way to survive. And he was right! Somehow the studio inevitably pulled a rabbit out of a hat and came up with the cash. Without Walt’s optimism and positive mindset, there would be no Disney legend that we know today.

Walt understood grit and perseverance better than anyone else. The Disney organization was just starting to come into its own when the Great Depression came crashing down upon the country. And yet Walt continued fine tuning his craft and creating cartoons that were well received by theater audiences everywhere. His optimism fueled this perseverance and every time he was knocked down, he was able to pick himself up, dust himself off and go back at it. This resilience combined with perseverance and a positive attitude was the key to surviving the dark days of the 1930s.

Creativity was another Disney hallmark. Walt got the idea to create a feature-length animated movie and introduced the world to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. No one in the film industry had every produced a feature-length animated movie and everyone doubted that such a production could succeed. Walt Disney proved the skeptics wrong and followed with additional masterpieces such as Pinnochio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942). When World War II took away many of his talented animators, he made movies under a contract with the federal government. While not nearly as profitable, the Disney organization was able to endure the war and remain in business. Walt’s creativity and ability to adapt to his circumstances were more entrepreneurial characteristics that led to his success.

He was a true visionary in every sense of the word. After succeeding with motion pictures, Walt foresaw the opportunity to create an amusement park that embodied the magic he had been delivering through his animated films. I can still remember that trip to Disneyland when I was five or six years old. I was overwhelmed by such an amazing experience. After Disneyland came his ideas for Disney World and Epcot in central Florida. Unfortunately, Walt Disney died from lung cancer in 1966 at the age of 65. The tragedy of this was the fact that he never witnessed the finished product of the Florida projects.

Walt was obsessed with detail and would often snoop after hours and look at the animator boards to see what his team was producing. Often the animators would arrive the next morning to find notes from Walt suggesting changes that would improve their work – and he was usually right about what he wanted. He demanded the highest level of quality for everything that bore the Disney brand. This was one of the major differentiators that enabled the Disney organization to consistently outpace the competition.

We entrepreneurs would be well-served to use Walt Disney as a role model. Wrapped into a single human being are the entrepreneurial traits of optimism and positivity; grit, perseverance and resilience; adaptability; creativity; vision; attention to detail and demand for quality. The impact he has had on our culture is indelible. The impact he has had in blazing a trail for entrepreneurs is profound.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 114 – Exactly What is Accountability?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The World’s Most Expensive Chocolate Bar

What do the following have in common? A To’ak Chocolate Bar, Sapporo’s Space Barley Beer, the Shure KSE1500 Electrostatic Earphone System, the Rolls Royce Phantom Serenity automobile, and the Bunn Tiger XL Super-Auto Espresso Machine? OK, here’s a hint. The chocolate bar costs $260; the beer retails at $110 per six pack; the earphone system costs $2,999; the Rolls Royce runs $1.1 million, and the Bunn coffee machine is $12,000. It’s obvious that all are ultra-premium products. A Hershey Bar at Sam’s Club can be purchased for $.57. A six-pack of Bud Light is about seven bucks. For less than $20 you can buy Philips SHE3590 earphones. A Toyota Corolla will set you back $18,500, and a Mr. Coffee BVMC-SJX33GT-AM 12-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker with Thermal Carafe Option is available on Amazon.com for $18.26 – and in a chrome finish no less!

You may be thinking “A chocolate bar is a chocolate bar,” right? And why would anyone want to drink a beer that costs $18.33 – would it really taste 1,467% better than a Bud Light because that’s the cost differential! Isn’t driving from Point A to Point B basically the same whether it’s in a Corolla or a Rolls? Why is there so much of a difference between a regular product and a premium one?

In nearly every industry there is always a product or service that commands a premium price. In this extremely competitive world in which we live, how can this be? There are a lot of wannabes when it comes to premium products but most come up short. As entrepreneurs we want to look for the opportunity to create a premium product or service that generate huge margins and burnish our reputation. So what do we do?

Let’s look at the primary elements that comprise a premium product or service. Certainly Quality is at the top of this list. The Rolls Royce Phantom Serenity is amazing in the category of quality. A Gearheads.org write-up had this to say, “The interior of the car received exceptionally crafted elements that are probably the most perfectly sculpted and crafted elements in the car world. Bloom effect and bloom motifs that are scattered throughout the cabin are applied by artists using a squirrel hair brush. The extent of lunacy of perfection went so far that Rolls-Royce imported a specially woven silk from Suzhou in China and integrate it throughout the cabin. Bloom effect was added onto the silk as well and Rolls-Royce officially published information that painting one silk panel with bloom effect required 600 working hours. You’ve read that right too. Basically, a man should work fifteen weeks straight to make a perfect blossom motif on only one silk covered panel.”

Another component attributable to the premium label is that of Features. Listen to this about the Shure KSE1500 from the Shure website. “Offers five EQ presets, four customizable EQ settings, and Bypass Mode which bypasses digital processing for pure analog audio enjoyment. Features high-resolution 24/96 ADC/DAC, aligning with the Japan Audio Society High-Resolution requirements for both analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion. Works with any earphones or headphones with a 3.5 mm jack; compatible with Mac, PC, iOS, and Android devices. Includes paired earphones and amplifier (not compatible with other earphones or amplifiers), charger, Lightning® and OTG cables, two 1/8″ cables, 1/4″ adapter, airline adapter, attenuator, cable clip, two security bands, cleaning cloth, case and user guide.” If I wanted a set of premium earphones, I would be pretty impressed with such a wide array of meaningful features.

The final primary facet of a premium product (or service) revolves around Brand. Sometimes a brand can be so legendary that it overshadows the actual product. There’s no doubt that a Rolls Royce is exquisite in terms of quality, but the Rolls brand is so steeped in a tradition of luxury that just about any automobile it produces will be perceived as an ultra-premium vehicle.

We entrepreneurs would do well to study premium products and services and model them to the greatest extent possible in our own organizations. Too often companies charge higher prices just because it costs more to produce whatever they are selling rather than providing true value to the customer. When we give premium value to our customers we are well on our way to achieving a level of product or service differentiation that commands a premium price.

 You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 27 – The Wheels on the Bus.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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